The first Andean bear to be born in mainland Great Britain has emerged from its den at Chester Zoo – and it’s absolutely adorable.
The rare cub which is yet to be sexed, arrived to parents Lima, aged five and Bernardo, aged seven, in January and, after spending months snuggled away in its den, has now started to venture out and explore for the first time.
Made famous in the UK through the classic children’s character Paddington Bear, the Andean bear is the only bear to inhabit South America.
They are found in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
The species is listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and conservation experts from the zoo say the birth of the cub is especially significant given how threatened the species is.
Curator of mammals at the zoo Tim Rowlands said: “The cub was tiny when it was born but Lima is doing a fantastic job, particularly given that she’s a first time mum, and the cub is developing quickly. Lima is keeping her new charge close and she certainly has her paws full. But even though she’s not letting it stray too from her side, we can already see that her cub has a real playful side.
“This is a momentous breeding success for us. To become the first zoo in mainland Great Britain to ever breed the species is an amazing achievement – one that has taken years of careful planning, dedication and skill.
“Andean bears are still something of mystery to conservationists and not a huge amount is known about them. But by working closely with the bears here, breaking new ground with this breeding, we’re constantly learning about this amazing species. We’re able to relay much of this information to our field conservation teams and partners in the wild, and it’s information that could very important in terms of ensuring a long-term future for the bears.”
Population estimates for the species were last made a decade ago, placing wild numbers at just 20,000. Conservation scientists are convinced that their numbers have since continued to decrease but are currently unsure of exactly how many remain in the wild.
The main threat to the Andean bear is habitat loss, with some 30% of the forests that contain sufficient food having disappeared in the past 20 years.
Hundreds of bears are also illegally killed by farmers and business owners every year, largely to prevent them raiding crops and livestock - believed to be a result of climate change which has created a food shortage in the bears’ natural habitat.
Collections director at the zoo Mike Jordan added: “Scientists and conservation experts from Chester Zoo are currently working with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) to study bear-human conflict for the very first time in an area of dry forest in Bolivia.
“Given the ever increasing threats to its long-term survival, we must take action for the Andean bear and further its conservation and this is a hugely important first step.”